St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor acknowledges his side was the butt of jokes a month ago but is happy to watch the doubters eat their words after their 27-24 NRL win over North Queensland at Jubilee Oval on Saturday night.
The Dragons got their fourth win in five matches thanks to a Jason Nightingale hat-trick that lifted them to within two points of the top eight.
In a match in which the lead changed hands four times, McGregor was not content with all aspects of the performance. But he was relieved to get the two points just five days after backing up from his side’s upset win over Melbourne and put wind in their sails heading into the bye.
“I thought when they needed to find something, they did, which was really good for a football team,” he said.
“Four (wins) from our last five, if anyone spoke about that a month ago, they would have laughed at us if we brought that up. It was a credit to the guys, they really deserve that week off.
“Patches tonight we were very, very good and other patches we were a bit off and I thought our kicking game was down at stages but overall we were all happy.”
Before the game, the Dragons put on a moving tribute to club great Reg Gasnier, who died aged 74 in May.
There were several turning points in the match but the most decisive came in the lead-up to Nightingale’s third try. Level at 20-20, Gerard Beale appeared to knock-on when he took an intercept pass on the Dragons’ line. However, the play was allowed to go and Nightingale finished superbly in the corner later in the set to the delight of the 12,082 strong crowd.
Cowboys coach Paul Green said he believed Beale had knocked on but did not make an issue of it.
While the result would have emboldened the Dragons, it only reinforced questions about the Cowboys, who are 12th and four points adrift of the eight.
They were without 11 top liners and had three players on debut – Sam Hoare, Ben Spina, Zac Santo. But they have become the Jekyll and Hyde team of the competition – they possess a 7-1 win-loss ratio at home but are 0-8 on the road this season.
While North Queensland are battling away in 11th spot, stand-in captain Ashton Sims bristled at the suggestion they are out of the running for the finals.
“Hundred per cent, hundred per cent, we’re going forward man,” he said when asked if they can still make the eight. “That’s it. You can talk about how many players we had out but at the end of the day there are wins and losses. And I thought we should have won tonight.”